Restaurant Firsts

Ethiopian Cuisine Debuts
Around the World

WHEN DID AMERICAN, CANADIAN AND WORLD CITIES get their first Ethiopian (or Eritrean) restaurants? Here’s a growing list – arranged chronologically and geographically – of what opened where and when since Beyene Guililat began it all with his restaurant in 1966.

I’ve pored over many databases and will continue to add to the list, but this method has shortcomings: Some tiny enat na abat (mom ‘n’ pop) restaurants may have opened and closed so quickly that they never made their local newspapers, not all of which are digitalized anyway – and I don’t have access to every database. So I welcome additions and corrections to my culinary archaeology.

Long Beach Press-Telegram  July 21, 1966  (click to enlarge)

Announcing the first:
Long Beach Press-Telegram,
July 21, 1966 (click to read)

In some cases, I can document the existence of an early restaurant in a city but haven’t yet confirmed either the year it opened or that it was, in fact, the first. I’ll include those here and mark them with (***) to show when some cities probably had their first restaurants. The Name Meanings link takes you to another page of mine, and you can visit my Ethiopian restaurants page to find a state-by-state list of current restaurants.

The oldest Ethiopian restaurant in the United States is Blue Nile, which opened in Detroit in 1983. (Queen of Sheba in Dallas opened in 1983, closed in 2002, and reopened in 2005.) The restaurants on the list that opened before it are all closed. Some cities had restaurants that only lasted for a short while: In the risky restaurant business, places come and go. I’ve included closing dates for a few early long-lasting restaurants – and for some that disappeared in a blink.

As for the oldest Ethiopian restaurant in the world: There seems to be dueling candidates. Needless to say, it’s in Ethiopia. But is it Addis Ababa restaurant, located in (and named for) the nation’s capital, or is it the restaurant at the Itege Taitu Hotel? I can’t find a precise date for the restaurant’s opening, but a very nice documentary (in Amharic) that I found in July 2017 says it’s 100 years old. That date could be ballpark or precise – no way to know. Itege Taitu Hotel opened in 1898 on the Ethiopian calendar, which is 1904-05 on the Western calendar. I’ll keep digging to confirm the date of the restaurant’s opening. The documentary offers a glimpse inside the place today along with historic photos of its past. So even if you don’t understand Amharic, it’s worth watching.

The oldest restaurant in the world outside of Ethiopia seems to be Africa, which opened in Rome in 1975. If there’s an older one, I’ve yet to find any trace of it. The restaurant bills itself today as Ethiopian-Eritrean, but it opened as an Eritrean restaurant, which makes sense: From 1888 to 1941, Eritrea was an Italian colony, and cultural exchanges went both ways. And in 2014, the restaurant Ketfò in Rome claimed to have launched the first Ethiopian food truck in Europe.

And what to make of this odd squib that appeared in the June 26, 1931, issue of the venerable Life magazine: “CHICAGO, June 17 – Tony Villettina, a Siamese connected with the beer handling mob of the lower South Side, was shot and killed as he emerged from the Café La Bella della Mussolini, an Ethiopian restaurant, this morning.” It’s highly unlikely that Chicago had an Ethiopian restaurant in 1931. In fact, a closer look at the item reveals it to be a satirical riff on Italian gangsters (always a source of rousing humor).

So here’s the list of restaurant firsts. We’ll start with the United States and then move on to Canada and the rest of the world.

The 1960s: Beyene Guililat’s Legacy
City Year Restaurant Name
Long Beach, Calif. 1966 Ethiopian Restaurant (first in the nation)
San Diego, Calif. 1969 Ethiopian Restaurant (same owner as above)
The 1970s: From Coast to Coast
City Year Restaurant Name
Miami, Fla. 1972 Ethiopian Lair
Washington, D.C. 1978 Mamma Desta
New York, N.Y. 1979 Sheba (see the menu)
Los Angeles, Calif. 1979 Walia
The 1980s: Big Cities, Small Towns
City Year Restaurant Name
Oakland, Calif. 1980 Blue Nile
Boston, Mass. 1981 Lalibela
Berkeley, Calif. 1982 Blue Nile (same owner as Oakland)
Seattle, Wash. 1982 Kokeb (closed in 2012)
Houston, Texas 1982 Queen of Sheba
Detroit, Mich. 1983 Blue Nile (nation’s oldest)
Dallas, Texas 1983 Queen of Sheba
(closed in 2002, reopened in 2005)
Portland, Ore. 1983 Jarra’s (closed in 2014)
Atlanta, Ga. 1983 Blue Nile
Culver City, Calif. 1983 Ghion
Chicago, Ill. 1984 Mama Desta’s Red Sea (closed in 2009)
Walla Walla, Wash. 1984 Debeb’s
Bloomington, Ind. 1984 Ashenda’s
Philadelphia, Pa. 1984 Nyala
Baltimore, Md. 1985 Queen of Sheba
St. Paul, Minn. 1985 Harar***
Minneapolis, Minn. 1985 Odaa***
St. Louis, Mo. 1985 Red Sea (Eritrean)
Santa Monica, Calif. 1985 Marathon
San Jose, Calif. 1986 Red Sea (Eritrean)
San Francisco, Calif. 1986 Rasselas
Tampa, Fla. 1987 Nile
West Chester, Pa. 1988 Court House II
Denver, Colo. 1989 Ethiopian Restaurant
Boulder, Colo. 1989 Ras Kassa’s
The 1990s: Middle Americas
City Year Restaurant Name
St. Petersburg, Fla. 1990 Ghion
Syracuse, N.Y. 1990 Red Sea
Lancaster, Pa. 1991 Blue Nile
Austin, Texas 1991 The Ethiopian Restaurant
Dayton, Ohio 1991 Blue Nile
Madison, Wisc. 1992 Horn of Africa (Eritrean)
Buraka (food cart, later a restaurant)
Cleveland, Ohio 1992 Empress Taytu
New Haven, Conn. 1992 Caffé Adulis (Eritrean)
Columbus, Ohio 1993 A&B Carryout
Santa Ana, Calif. 1993 Ras Dashen
Las Vegas, Nev. 1993 Red Sea (Eritrean)
Tucson, Ariz. 1994 Zemam’s
Ligonier, Ind. 1994 Daniel’s Ligonier Café
(Weekends only, owner is Ethiopian)
Durham, N.C. 1994 Blue Nile
Louisville, Ky. 1994 Café Kilimanjaro
(pan-African, Ethiopian owner)
Indianapolis, Ind. 1995 Queen of Sheba
Kansas City, Kan. 1995 Martha’s Café
Kansas City, Mo. 1995 Blue Nile Café
Richmond, Va. 1995 Ye Ethiopia Injera
New Brunswick, N.J. 1996 Makeda
East Lansing, Mich. 1996 Altu’s
Sandusky, Ohio 1996 Queen of Sheba (closed within a year)
Nashville, Tenn. 1996 Bella Pizza
(Ethiopian owner, cuisine on weekends only)
Hartford, Conn. 1997 Wolde’s
Sioux Falls, S.D. 1997 Blue Nile
Orlando, Fla. 1997 Sabina
Sacramento, Calif. 1997 Queen Sheba
Phoenix, Ariz. 1997 Café Lalibela
Charlotte, N.C. 1999 Red Sea (Eritrean)
The 21st Century Begins: Mesob Across America
City Year Restaurant Name
Rochester, N.Y. 2000 Abyssinia***
Grand Rapid, Mich. 2000 Little Africa (originally Teshlou’s Imports)
North Miami Beach, Fla. 2000 A Taste of Ethiopia
Cincinnati, Ohio 2000 Addis Zemen
Memphis, Tenn. 2000 Abyssinia
Loma Linda, Calif. 2001 Andrew’s Ethiopian and Italian Cuisine
Raleigh, N.C. 2001 Abyssinia
New Orleans, La. 2001 Red Sea (originally Warehouse Café)
Stamford, Conn. 2001 Teff (Eritrean)
(Took this name in 2015; began as a deli in 2001, serving the cuisine three days a week)
Chapel Hill, N.C. 2002 Queen of Sheba
Milwaukee, Wis. 2002 Lula’s Café
(Ethiopian, Eritrean and Somali cuisine)
Jacksonville, Fla. 2003 Queen of Sheba
Montclair, N.J. 2003 Mesob
Salt Lake City, Utah 2004 African Restaurant
Frederick, Md. 2004 Tajitu
Pittsburgh, Pa. 2004 Abay
Hampton, Va. 2004 Bahir Dar
Omaha, Neb. 2004 International Café (Somali and Ethiopian)
Portland, Maine 2004 Asmara (Eritrean)
Harrisonburg, Va. 2004 Blue Nile
(began as catering business in 1993)
Lexington, Ky. 2005 Royal Fasica Christine
Bellingham, Wash 2005 Ambo
(food booth first, restaurant in 2014)
Sarasota, Fla. 2005 Fly
York, Pa. 2005 Sequina Café
Mankato, Minn. 2005 Nile Café
Lawrence, Kan. 2005 Addis Ababa
Worthington, Minn. 2006 Queen Sheba
Santa Rosa, Calif. 2006 Santa Trata (Eritrean)
Iowa City, Iowa 2006 David’s Place
West Palm Beach, Fla. 2006 Queen of Sheeba
(Takeout opened in 2006, restaurant in 2015)
Oklahoma City, Okla. 2006 Queen of Sheba
Fairbanks, Alaska 2007 Tekul (closed that year)
Reno, Nev. 2007 Zagol
Fresno, Calif. 2007 Lucy’s Lair
Blacksburg, Va. 2007 Excellent Table
Fort Wayne, Ind. 2008 Ethiopian Restaurant
Charlottesville, Va. 2008 Mesob
Myrtle Beach, S.C. 2008 Redi-Et
(catering only, restaurant closed in 2017)
Asheville, N.C. 2008 Abaye Cuisine
(catering and pop-up restaurant)
Burlington, Vt. 2009 ¡Duino! (Duende)
(Tuesday night Ethiopian menu)
The 21st Century Continues: The New Chinese?
City Year Restaurant Name
Colorado Spring, Colo. 2010 Uchenna
Davis, Calif. 2010 Queen Sheba
Spokane, Wash. 2010 Queen of Sheba
Mt. Kisco, N.Y. 2010 Lalibela
Lincoln, Neb. 2010 Ajora Falls (originally African Restaurant)
Albuquerque, N.M. 2010 Damara (served only on Saturdays)
Fairfield, Iowa 2010 Addis
(food booth first, restaurant in 2014)
Honolulu, Hawaii 2011 Addis Ababa (closed that year)
Providence, R.I. 2011 Abyssinia
Jackson, Miss. 2011 Abeba
Knoxville, Tenn. 2011 Gosh
Buffalo, N.Y. 2012 Lucy
Rochester, Minn. 2012 Nile
Norristown, Pa. 2013 Almaz
Greensboro, S.C. 2013 Taste of Ethiopia
Eureka, Calif. 2013 Ethiopian International Café
Virginia Beach, Va. 2013 A&N Café (now called Mesob Café)
Columbia, S.C. 2013 Salina Café
Allentown, Pa. 2013 Mariam’s
Charleston, S.C. 2013 Ethiopian Taste (closed a year later)
Fort Worth, Texas 2014 Samson’s Market and Bistro
San Antonio, Texas 2014 Berbere (catering service, festival booths)
Ottumwa, Iowa 2014 Safari
Des Moines, Iowa 2014 International African Cuisine
Fargo, N.D. 2014 Habesha
Boise, Idaho 2014 Kibrom’s
East Aurora, N.Y. 2014 Thea’s
Harrisburg, Pa. 2014 Cafe D’Afric (closed in 2016)
Eugene, Ore. 2015 Addis
Athens, Ga. 2015 Mannaweenta (Eritrean)
Tulsa, Okla. 2015 Eritrean and Ethiopian Café
Ithaca, N.Y. 2015 Hawi
Albany, N.Y. 2015 Umana (Afro-Caribbean international menu, Ethiopian platter on Fridays and Saturdays)
Santa Fe, N.M. 2015 Café Roha
Cordova, Tenn. 2015 Ethiopian Restaurant & Coffee
Lawrenceville, Ga. 2016 Sodere Ethio-American Cuisine
Davenport, Iowa 2016 Taste of Ethiopia
Victorville, Calif. 2016 Ribka
Birmingham, Ala. 2016 Ghion Cultural Hall
Johnson City, Tenn. 2017 Green Olive
Fayetteville, Ga. 2018 Mulu’s Ethiopian Kitchen
North Bergen, N.J. 2018 Ghenet Hudson
Broken Arrow, Okla. 2018 Lalibela
Anchorage, Alaska 2018 Queen of Sheba
Manchester, Conn. 2018 Walia
Northern Exposure: Mesob Across Canada
City Year Restaurant Name
Toronto, Ontario 1983 Queen of Sheba (closed in 2013)
Montréal, Quebec 1983 Addis
Vancouver, British Columbia 1988 Nyala (opened as Yia-Sou)
Winnipeg, Manitoba 1990 Messob
Ottawa, Ontario 1992 Addis Café
Calgary, Alberta 1993 Teff
Hamilton, Ontario 1993 Lion of Judah
Windsor, Ontario 1994 Queen of Sheba
Edmonton, Alberta 1994 Fassil (moved to Calgary in 2007)
Kitchener, Ontario 1996 A M Africa (Eritrean)
London, Ontario 1996 Enat
Halifax, Nova Scotia 2003 Addis Ababa
Regina, Saskatchewan 2003 Selam
Victoria, British Columbia 2005 Blue Nile (Eritrean)
Fredericton, New Brunswick 2012 Hana
Yellowknife, Northwest Territories 2014 Zehabesha
Brandon, Manitoba 2015 Tana
St. John’s,
Newfoundland and Labrador
2015 Gursha
(at St. John’s Farmer’s Market)
Australasian Offerings: Mesob Down Under
City Year Restaurant Name
Melbourne 1988 Nyala (East African)
Mount Isa 1994 Abyssinia
Canberra 2002 Ethiopia Down Under
Perth 2003 Ethiopian Café and Artifacts
Brisbane 2004 Mu’ooz (Eritrean)
Adelaide 2006 Addis Ababa Café
Hobart (Tasmania) 2008 Axum
Auckland (New Zealand) 2012 Café Abyssinia
Sydney 2012 Jambo Jambo
Coffs Harbour 2013 Mana Chita
Wellington (New Zealand) 2014 The Meeting Tree
Newcastle 2014 Habesha
Ballarat 2014 Café Merkama
Continental Cuisine: Mesob Across Europe
City Year Restaurant Name
Rome 1975 Africa*** (Eritrean)
Milan 1978 Da Samson (Eritrean)
Athens 1970s [ Name and date unknown ]
London 1983 Abyssinia
Paris 1983 Entoto
Karlsruhe (Germany) 1988 Mogogo (Eritrean)
(originally Restaurant Afrika)
Oslo 1990 Exodus***
Bologna 1990 Ristorante Africano (Eritrean)
Naples 1992 Red Sea (Eritrean)
Amsterdam 1992 Lalibela
Eindhoven (Netherlands) 1992 Ethiopisch Restaurant
The Hague 1996 Mogogo (Eritrean)
Budapest 1996 Lalibela
(began as a catering service)
Darmstadt (Germany) 1996 African Safari
Copenhagen 1999 Mesob
Moscow 1999 Addis Abeba (originally Bungalow Bar)
Hamburg 1999 Ethio
Cologne 1999 Selam
Berlin 2000 Bejte***
Leiden (Netherlands) 2000 Djebena (Eritrean)
Stockholm 2002 Abyssinia
Ingolstadt (Germany) 2003 Äthiopisches Restaurant
Toulon (France) 2005 Rastafari
Lausanne (Switzerland) 2005 Abyssinia
Sheffield (England) 2005 Ethio Cubano
Barcelona 2006 Abissinia
Reading (England) 2006 Tutu’s Ethiopian Table
Heidelberg 2006 Abyssinia
Düsseldorf 2006 Tiru
Lyon (France) 2006 Messob
Leeds (England) 2007 Merkato
Leuven (Belgium) 2007 House of Lalibela
Brussels 2007 Kokob
Antwerp 2007 Kokob
Manchester 2007 Habesha
Prague 2008 Ethiopia Café
Kassel (Germany) 2009 Abessina (Eritrean)
Madrid 2009 Mesob (now called Habesha)
Glasgow 2010 Queen of Sheba
Metz (France) 2010 Ô Paradis éthiopien
Marseille (France) 2010 La Reine de Saba
Villeurbanne (France) 2010 Walya
Nice (France) 2011 Le Soleil d’Asmara
Vienna 2011 Ethiopian Restaurant
Liverpool 2011 Selam Café (Eritrean)
Birmingham 2011 Blue Nile
Flúðir (Iceland) 2011 Minilik
Bern (Switzerland) 2011 Injera
Vigo (Spain) 2011 Habesha
San Leo (Italy) 2012 Ketfò
Helsinki 2012 Kuningatar Saba (Queen Sheba)
Heiderscheid (Luxembourg) 2012 Jimmy
Nottingham 2012 Habesha
Lille (France) 2013 Habesha
Riccione (Italy) 2013 Addis
Göttingen (Germany) 2013 Abessina
Warsaw 2013 Abyssinia
(catering company first, restaurant in 2015)
Reykjavik 2014 Teni
Mainz (Germany) 2014 Madiba Afrika
Neuchâtel (Switzerland) 2014 Abyssinia
Gent (Belgium) 2015 Muday
Caen (France) 2015 L’Abyssin
Kiev 2015 Sarman
(Ethiopian, Georgian, Russian, European cuisine)
Brighton (England) 2016 Abyssinia
Las Palmas, Canary Islands (Spain) 2016 Etiopica Afrika
Amiens (France) 2016 Abyssinia
Auxerre (France) 2016 Wollo
Bordeaux (France) 2016 Adey Abeba
Aix-en-Provence (France) 2017 Chez Ama
Hanover (Germany) 2017 Hawashait
Clermont-Ferrand (France) 2017 Lalibela
Heswall (England) 2017 Abyssinia Kitchen
Strasbourg (France) 2017 Abyssinia
Rennes (France) 2018 Restaurant Ethiopien
Amersfoort, Netherlands 2019 Awaze
Dublin 2019 Gursha (Friday/Saturday pop-up)
Ulm, Germany 2020 Abyssinia
International Cuisine: Mesob Around the World
City Year Restaurant Name
Harare, Zimbabwe 1986*** Timbuctoo (Ethiopian, West African, Moroccan)
Tokyo 1990 Queen Sheba
Kingston (Jamaica) 1992 Queen of Sheba***
(inside the Bob Marley Museum)
Jerusalem 1992 Ethiopian Restaurant***
Kampala 1992 Ethiopian Village***
Accra 1994 Lalibela***
Kigali (Rwanda) 1997 Addis***
Dar es Salaam 1998 Addis in Dar***
Arusha (Tanzania) 1999 Spices and Herbs***
Lusaka (Zambia) 2000 Green Ethiopian Restaurant***
Dubai, UAR 2000 Al Habasha
Osaka 2001 Axum
Windhoek (Namibia) 2001 Abyssinia***
Cairo 2003 Axum***
Bangkok 2003 Abyssinia Café
Manila 2005 Ziggurat***
(trans-national cuisines including Ethiopian)
Sana’a (Yemen) 2006 Ethiopian Restaurant***
Dakar 2006 Lalibela***
Cape Town 2007 Addis in Cape
Juba (South Sudan) 2007 Kush
Hawally (Kuwait) 2007 Al Habesha
Manama (Bahrain) 2008 Millennium (in Concorde Hotel)
Beijing 2008 Ras
Abu Dhabi, UAR 2008 Al Habasha (same owner as Dubai)
Fukuoka (Japan) 2008 Fasika
Seoul 2009 Club Zion
Zanzibar City (Tanzania) 2011 Abyssinian Maritim
Istanbul 2012 Habesha
Doha (Qatar) 2012 Mesob Habesha
Harare (Zimbabwe) 2012 Queen Makeda***
New Delhi 2013 Blue Nile (at the Ethiopian Cultural Center)
Abuja (Nigeria) 2013 Saba
Ħamrun (Malta) 2013 Selam East African Bar (Eritrean)
Shanghai 2013 Eat Ethio (pop-up restaurant)
Amman (Jordan) 2013 Abyssinia
Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire) 2013 Gursha
(began as a pop-up)
Durban (South Africa) 2013 Café Abyssinia
Hong Kong 2014 Eat Ethio (pop-up restaurant)
Guangzhou (Canton), China 2014 Abyssinia
Msida (Malta) 2015 One Love African Restaurant
Chennai, India 2016 Abyssinian
Port Elizabeth (South Africa) 2016 Messer
Palm Jumeirah, UAR 2016 Gursha
Phnom Penh 2017 Sara
Malabo, Equitorial Guinea 2018 Lucy
Juhu (Mumbai), India 2019 Maharsh
Pune, India 2019 Abyssinia

Harry Kloman
University of Pittsburgh (302)

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